Ottawa startup Plantaform hopes to harvest profits from indoor gardening technology

A Carleton University business grad says his new startup is planting the seeds of a flourishing global horticulture enterprise with a soil-free system that grows herbs and leafy vegetables in a container small enough to sit on a kitchen countertop. 

Alberto Aguilar launched fledgling biotech startup Plantaform last spring with longtime friend Kiwa Lang, an industrial designer who attended high school with Aguilar in Dubai and now lives in Australia. 

Lang was looking for sustainable alternatives to traditional horticulture and discovered a concept called fogponics, a technique pioneered by NASA that nourishes plants with nutrient-enriched water vapor rather than soil. He immediately reached out to his old pal, and a truly international startup was born. “It’s extremely efficient,” Aguilar says of the technology, explaining that it uses 95 percent less water than traditional soil-based horticulture operations.

Unlike more well-established hydroponics systems, Plantaform’s product – dubbed Rejuvenate – doesn’t submerge plant roots in water. Rather, it circulates a fine mist loaded with nutrients throughout an egg-shaped device roughly 60 centimeters high by 60 centimeters wide. The high-tech indoor garden can grow up to 15 plants at a time, ranging from herbs such as basil and oregano to leafy greens including lettuce and kale. 

35-day growing cycle
Customers set the proper lighting and nutrient mix on a smartphone app. Aguilar says the system can effectively run itself for up to three weeks before the water supply needs to be replenished, and it takes roughly 35 days to harvest a crop from the time seeds are “planted” in the device.

Plantaform’s own growth path has been a little rockier. Backed by about $100,000 in funding from the founders’ family and friends as well as investors in Aguilar’s previous startups, the company stumbled out of the gate early last year.

The initial design for Rejuvenate failed, and it’s taken about half a dozen iterations to get the concept just right. In addition, Aguilar notes ruefully, the firm’s original team “collapsed” after several employees quit last summer because the founders couldn’t afford to pay them full-time salaries. 

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